Monday, April 20, 2020

The Jaggedness Of Everyday Life


I don't love every book, but I do love everything about books. And one of the things I most love is a book that makes me want to stay up all night reading.

I run a book project in my community that's basically a free little library. Neighbors donate books and I sort and shelve them in a bus stop, one building away. I call the project the Book Shuk, a name I repurposed from another, similar project that I coordinated in Baltimore, once upon a time.

I love contributing to my community in this way. And I'm not gonna lie. A major perk is getting first dibs on the books that get donated.

When the corona virus came to Israel, our local government, fearful of germs living on book covers, emptied out all the bus stop libraries in town, including the Book Shuk.

So I have stacks and bags and boxes of books in my hallway, waiting to be shelved when the local government decides that it's safe. And I have my own little stash, books I pulled out to read myself before shelving.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah won a bajillion awards when it was first published in 2015. It has over 600,000 ratings on Goodreads and over 43,000 ratings on Amazon. Even with all that, I had no idea the book existed until someone donated a copy to the Book Shuk.

It was actually the last book left in my private stash when I reached for it this past Friday night. At 7 AM on Shabbat morning, I wiped the tears from my eyes, closed the back cover and finally went to bed, just as my husband awoke.

Obviously, it's a wonderful book and I highly recommend it. But I want to tell you something about the experience of reading it in the wee hours of the morning, more than a month into the corona virus pandemic.

The story is set primarily in France during WWII. The main characters are two non-Jewish sisters. One is a conventional wife and mother, living in rural France and the other is her impetuous younger sister who whirls through life, taking irresponsible risks that allow her to accomplish amazing things.

There are many layers to the story, but I'm focusing here on just one of them.

As the war progresses, the everyday lives of ordinary French citizens begin to change... in some of the exact ways that our lives have changed due to the corona virus.

These parallel disruptions include enforced separation from, and, in some cases, mourning the deaths of, people we love, food shortages, needing to stand in line to buy food, even police-enforced curfews, coupled with a general sense of the jaggedness of everyday life.

Which pretty much describes how I am experiencing life right now.

On one level, I am profoundly aware of my blessings. I sleep in my own bed, wear my own clothes and cook in my own kitchen.

But it cannot be denied that there is an enemy outside my front door. That enemy has closed down much of what passed for normal life just six weeks ago.

The streets are mostly empty now. Major tourist destinations in Jerusalem sit alone, reminding me of nothing so much as the opening verse from Eichah. O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! (Eichah 1:1)

These images of an empty Jerusalem by photographer Yonit Schiller are chilling.




It also cannot be denied that no one knows who will survive. No one has any idea when this will be over.  No one can be certain what the ultimate economic consequences of this pandemic will be and no one knows what a post-corona world will look like.

Just like when the world is at war.

Being awake at 4 AM, reading a novel set in Europe during WWII, certainly makes it easier to take note of the parallels.
 

But here's the bottom line.

Even in "normal times", what we have is nothing more than the illusion of control, the myth of predictability.  In truth, only God is in control. 


This has always been true.

It's just easier to see now.


This is what I ruminate about, as I lay in my bed at 7 AM, hoping to fall asleep, just as the rest of the country rises to recite their Shabbat morning prayers.


Saturday, April 11, 2020

... And Now I Sit And Quietly Wait




It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
- Eicha (Lamentations 3:26)


For much more than a decade, I have been speaking of the impending geula, the Final Redemption, the era of peace and the permanent ascension of the spiritual over the physical.

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I searched and searched for the spiritual significance of the unfolding events, certain that it was connected to God advancing the messianic redemption. The more I searched, the more I found.

This and these and also that are part of God's great calculus, why He brought such a plague to the world and what we are meant to take from it, how it is preparing us for the era of Moshiach and how our lives will change for the better.

These investigations have been meaningful and have helped me set a plan for myself, to determine how I am going to move forward through these times.

In truth, my investigations remind me very much of my experience in Torah study. We understand that each verse in the Torah exists on multiple levels; its meaning is never just the literal understanding of the text. The more I delve into a particular Torah text, the more and deeper meanings I uncover, to the extent that Hashem graces me with the ability to perceive anything about His sublime Torah.

Similarly, the more I look into what message Hashem is sending with this pandemic, the more I understand that there is no one message, no single reason, no unitary conclusion we are all meant to derive. Except maybe this.

The world has a Creator and a Sustainer and He is asking us to recognize that this is all from His Hand.

Shabbat recently ended in Israel. I spent much more of it in prayer and Torah study than I used to. As Hashem's hashgacha pratit (personal Divine supervision) would have it, I have been studying Sefer Yeshayahu (Isaiah) with my local Tanach study group. Yeshayahu speaks in poetic language, for which I require extensive commentary, so that I can understand his prophecies. He also speaks, more than any other Biblical prophet, about the messianic era.

These last few weeks, I sense that I have been speaking fewer words than I used to. And that  gives me more time to focus on the world that Hashem created, to notice things I am usually too busy to take note of.

Today, I sat on my couch, facing Jerusalem, and watched the clouds blow by through the windows in our living room. For 5780 years, Hashem has been moving clouds in the sky, and, for the most part, at least since I was a child, I have been too preoccupied to focus on the way the sky constantly changes.

I took a sip of cold water from a cup and was able to focus my attention on the miracle of being able to coordinate my lips and my tongue and my throat to be able to drink. I marveled at the fact that I have, at my disposal, a virtually limitless supply of fresh, cold water to slake my thirst.

The cup and the clouds were meditations to me, reminding me to notice all the gifts Hashem bestows upon me, literally at every moment, for which I have been, in the main, too overloaded to observe.

I believe, no less than I did before, in the greatness and the power of Hashem and in His ability to bring the Final Redemption. I believe, no less than I did before, in the likelihood that the changes COVID-19 has wrought are meant to bring us closer to the day when the Moshiach will be revealed and he can get on with the work of building the Third and final Temple in Jerusalem, of bringing the rest of the Jews back to Israel and to Torah, of bringing peace to the whole world and all the other promises of the Messianic era.

What's changed is that I have taken a deep breath and convinced myself that my work now is to sit and quietly wait. To turn inward. To pray. To study. To contemplate. To notice.

Those who know me in real life know that this is a chidush - a novel approach for me. I, who have spent a lifetime shouting from rooftops, am feeling humbled by the massive power Hashem has turned loose in the world.

In this, I am with Yeshayahu haNavi who said, "
And I will wait for the Lord, Who hides His countenance from the House of Jacob and I will hope for Him." (8:17)

For all my hubris, I know nothing.

And now I sit and quietly wait.